The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Anglocat On The Aisle

Today, I was involved in my first service as a Lay Eucharistic Minister. We trained for about a half hour last Sunday, focusing on the meanings of the sacrament, and on how to administer it to people who "dunk", who won't take the chalice, who--well, you get the idea.

What we did not discuss, and in retrospect, might have been a good idea, was our role in the procession. We preceded the clergy, folowing the choir. In vestments. Carrying the hymnal and singing. Just before we went in, the Rector smiled, and clapped me on the shoulder, welcoming me. He teased, "It's Rookies' Day today," just as the music swelled.

I had been briefed on my seating minutes before we began the procession. What I had not realized was that I was flanked not by the other LEMs, but by clergy--including two new priests I had not met before. I was nearest the altar rail, and closest to the congregation.

I was somewhat disoriented by my new view of the Church--all the details that normally surround me in my seat among the congregation were fresh and vivid with my new perspective. I saw the beauty of the Rose Window as if for the very first time. And the congregation was large. Larger than I'm aware of when I'm in it. I began to feel nervous, afraid I'd trip on an altar step, or some other Clouseau-level fumble. (The fact that someone had helpfully given me the leaflet for the wrong service ddn't help much, either).

But I relaxed a little as the service went on, and when the time came to administer the Sacrament, I found it took up my whole attention--making eye contact, pausing for the older lady who had her hand in a cast, and needed to be sure of her grasp of the chalice, guiding the chalice to the lips of one lady who clearly expected me to do the work. I was helped by the fact that I was working in tandem with the Deacon (a friend, with whom I do some parish work), and we found a comfortable rhythm easily.

We later processed out--with which we three newbies were not familiar with, but we just faked it. And, that was that.

Except it doesn't communicate the exaltation of having done it--of having been a part of the team, and of having contributed to the service. And here's today's lesson for the Anglocat:

I'm very comfortable using my analytical skills, my intellectual abilities. But I'm not used to the spiritual side of life when it's not bound up in the intellect. I don't know how to be in the moment, when the moment isn't a moment of thought. Hence my nervousness--I was out of my comfort zone. But in a good way, I think. I have the same problem--not feeling assured--with some of my parish work, say in the homeless shelter. I'm too used to running in my familiar grooves. The acts--in the shelter, or at the altar--may be simple. Their resonance is profound.

More than most, I need to be mindful of
George Herbert's lesson:
All may of Thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture--"for Thy sake"--
Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
Makes that and th' action fine.
I've a ways to go. But I think I'm learning.


Anonymous said...

God bless you in your new ministry as a LEM, John.

When I was in seminary, THE most asked question by those preparing to learn how to celebrate was, "What do I do if the Chalice is spilled?"... a question I'm sure occurs to LEMs also.

Well, I had my own scary moment later on when I was a deacon at The Church of the Transfiguration ("Little Church Around The Corner") in NYC. A man kneeling at the rail kept his hands folded and let me do the guiding of the chalice to his lips. No sooner had he sipped than his clasped hands abruptly shot up... hitting the bottom of the chalice in front of his face. Obviously, wine went everywhere... the floor, his shirt (I don't have a recollection, but from his later comment, it must also have gotten on my alb sleeve... I'm sure not on the dalmatic). So the seminary discussion came to mind, and I cleaned up as instructed.

At the door after the service while greeting people as they were leaving, he says to me with a sheepish grin, "Sorry about being washed in The Blood of the Lamb!"

Better luck to you, John.

Anglocat said...

*Snarf!* David, thank you--I nearly blurted my morning coffee on that one.

You made my day--and made me realize how lucky I was on my first day.

Many thanks.